Biosciences strategic communication in Africa
By Daniel Otunge
Regional Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa
African Agricultural Technology Foundation
P.O. Box 30709, 00100, Nairobi, Kenya
Paper to be presented during the Biosciences for Farming in Africa’s session at the 2014 AAAS Annual Meeting (13-17 February 2014)
AFRICA’S relationship with biosciences faces critical challenges as policy makers and the public face unprecedented dilemmas. Many people are uneasy about agricultural biotechnology which seems to be advancing faster than their awareness and knowledge levels. Matters are not help by two frames of the technology (negative and positive) that are being championed by bitterly opposed sides of the biotechnology divide. Consequently, public mistrust and, in some cases, outright hostility has bred a climate of deep anxiety among scientists, law makers and policy makers. Yet, modern agricultural biotechnology has been identified as one of the technologies that can help Africa to revive and boost its falling agricultural productivity and reduce food insecurity on the continent. However, biotechnology products have met with fierce opposition from groups opposed to them for various reasons, including concerns over their safety. As a result, adoption of biotechnology crops in Africa has been lagging behind other continents, leaving the region even more vulnerable to hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Only four countries in Africa (South Africa, Egypt, Burkina Faso and Sudan) have so far commercialized transgenic crops. Policy makers in Africa are reluctant to institute facilitative biosafety frameworks to govern agricultural biotechnology research, development and commercialization due to the unresolved controversies surrounding biotechnology products. Such irrational policy behaviors can only be avoided by building the confidence of policy makers and the public through sharing credible information and knowledge on all aspects of the technology. The Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) was initiated specifically to address biotechnology knowledge and awareness deficits by providing a platform for sober exchange of information, experiences and knowledge. This presentation will highlight some of the opportunities and challenges facing biosciences communication in Africa and call for strategic partnerships to overcome the challenges so that Africa can also exploit the huge opportunities presented by areas of biosciences including biotechnology. This global partnership is necessary because experience shows that European biotechnology regulatory policies, for example, to a large extent determine institutional, policy and regulatory arrangements and decisions that misgovern biotechnology in many African countries.